[This review by Esam Sohail was published in the Fall 2007 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 383-385.] 


America Challenged: Issues Foreign and Domestic

Dwight Murphey

Council for Social and Economic Studies, 2007


            The slender but powerful monograph by Dwight Murphey draws on some previous scholarship, sober reflections, and thoughtful insight to give an intellectual basis for the general discomfort many Americans feel about engaging a rapidly changing world. Such engagement, as the author points out, is evidenced by the high volumes of  immigration, international trade, and U.S. political/military intervention abroad.

            Echoing the themes lately championed by journalists Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan, Professor Murphey wonders if the social contract and its attendant values that made for the ascendancy of American society are being eroded by such entanglements with the outside world. He points to the folly of expending resources in intervening abroad purportedly to expand democracy where it perhaps cannot thrive, of having too many people within the United States from cultures that are very different than the accepted American mosaic, and of free trade pushing down prices and wages of the American middle class. Each of those strands of thought is substantiated by scholarship from like-minded authors, chilling anecdotes, and historical perspective.

            And therein lies the fundamental strength of Murphey’s monograph: he has seamlessly weaved data, anecdotes, and literary output to make a case not for disengagement per se, but for extreme caution in choosing the path of engagement. The central question in the monograph becomes something akin to this: can utterly alien people be worth welcoming, trading with, caring about, if such a course of action threatened the social fabric of the American middle class as it has existed since the Second World War?

            Murphey alleges, with some evidence, that the opinion leaders (entertainment, academia, journalists) and policymakers have largely coalesced into an elite that is solidly pro-engagement. This elite—neo-liberal or neo-conservative both—ignores the wishes and welfare of the American middle class as it goes along with its ideological agenda to spread democracy abroad and a pro-corporate agenda to import cheap labor at home. If in the overwhelming nature of this elitist attachment to the world at large and its problems, Murphey sees a subtle, or even not-so-subtle, threat to the cultural mores, social institutions, and economic well-being of American civilization, one cannot dismiss those concerns. Those doubts are well catalogued in the monograph and reflect well, in an academic language the elite well understand, the fears of the American middle class.

            The shortcoming of the monograph is its lack of social and historical introspection. Professor Murphey does not recall in the monograph that the strongest ethnic strands in the American stock are made up of people such as the Irish and the Germans, who less than a hundred and fifty years ago were mocked as immigrants whose language and culture were utterly repugnant to what America was supposed to be. Similar is the irony in reflecting on some of the erstwhile signature strengths of the American social fabric. Values like the work ethic, sanctity of contracts, strong nuclear families, educational endeavors, have been under assault in the United States long before there was unbridled immigration or free trade. It well may be argued that immigrants and trade competitors have injected some life into those values which otherwise would have been on their last legs in a society where divorces, judicial lawmaking, and educational under-achievement have become the norm. 

            Notwithstanding the critique above, the monograph should be a must read for someone who needs a scholarly crash course in the thinking of those who are not sold on the neo-liberal (or neo-conservative) consensus of free trade, open borders, and ubiquitous representative democracy. Its compactness, richness of anecdote and data, and lucid writing style make it an ideal resource for those who seek to credibly understand the unease that the new world order triggers in much of the American middle class. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Esam Sohail


Editor’s note: This is Esam Sohail’s first appearance in these pages.  He hails from Bangladesh, but has lived in the United States for several years.  A writer for several publications, he also maintains an articulate and provocative “blog”: http://ksreaganite.townhall.com

            In asking him to review this monograph written by our associate editor, the Journal invited him to be strictly honest in giving his own critique.  It doesn’t surprise or disappoint the editors, then, that he has voiced a different view than their own on the issue of immigration.  Whether continued massive Third World immigration into the United States will strengthen the American fabric, as Sohail suggests it might, is a question that readers will no doubt want to ponder.